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To push or not to push.


Mother scolding her son

Parenting is all about pushing; it begins with labour, and after that, there’s really no getting away from it. Initially, it’s all about the little things – push in one more spoonful of food, make the child sleep, potty-train, that sort of thing. And of course, you tell yourself that you’re so not going to be a pushy parent; that once the child can understand reason, you will make him/her come around to your way of thinking without resorting to parental pressure and authority. All because you don’t want to be a pushy parent; all because there isn’t a word with more negative connotations than ‘pushy parent’, is there?

Ever since Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ created a stir, we’ve debated on the concept of parents making the kids perform – be it in the arts, sports or academics. And in India, this debate, in many ways is pretty one-sided. Not because all Indian parents are pushy – far from it, but because most parents value super-achieving kids. Even if it is at the cost of childhood. I do not exaggerate; I see all around me kids as young as 4 or 5 going from one class to another – the weekday given over to more than three activities, so that the child gets ‘exposed’ to the arts, sports and academics at a young age. But which child of 4 or 5 enjoys it? Naturally, the child baulks at the idea of no-free-time and a string of extra-curricular activities. The parent, however, has water-tight explanations. ‘No, no, at that age they’re too young to decide'; ‘only if he/she tries it for a year, they will know if they like it or not’. And so on. But the same parents, however, find that the going gets harder as the child gets older, mostly because the child learns to resist. Mind maths? But why? Tennis class? Oh god, why? Dance class? Why can’t I skip and watch TV? Everything becomes a row; some escalate into wars; things turn ugly. Punitive measures are imposed; parental authority is exercised but often disregarded. And then the introspection starts – should we have done something differently? Are we ‘forcing’ the child to do something he/she is really averse to? But isn’t it for their own good? Won’t they be thankful we made them do this when they’re older? There are, of course, no easy answers.

What works for one parent-child, won’t work for another. In our household, for instance, things have always been very laissez-faire; so easy going that the daughter herself begged for extra-curricular lessons. At 12. And she enjoys her lessons (ballet and debate) and thrives in them. (That actually made me wonder if I shouldn’t have started her off earlier. But never mind.) But I also know of kids who took to sports at a very early age; found that they were passionate about singing/ dancing only because their parents wouldn’t let them stop music/ dance lessons even when they refused to go for them as 7-year-olds. I also know of cases when the child rebelled – and rebelled quite vigorously – that the parent-child relationship was messed up because they forced the activities on the child. And when it comes to academics, the line gets even more hazy. Are marks everything? But then, don’t they count towards college admissions? Except, 4th standard marks never do. So why are parents cracking the whip on a 9-year-old? To get them into the habit of hard-work? Isn’t it sufficient if they put their nose to the proverbial grind-stone in the years that count? I really don’t have the answers. And I don’t know which bunch of parents are right – the ones who decide their child should be a super-achiever/ perform to the best of their ability; or the ones who will sit back and watch the child learn by him/herself. I wish I had the answer. Do you?

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2 thoughts on “To push or not to push.

  1. Kritika

    Interesting and thought-provoking post Aparna. A couple of things came to mind as I read it:
    1. The different number of classes that we send kids to from an early age – while in some cases, these classes are in order to explore kids’ interests and talents – though how you know if you kid is going to be Tiger Woods by sending him for Kinder Golf at two I don’t know – many times, I think, these classes are simply a way to preserve mom’s sanity. Sending kids for different classes keeps them constructively occupied and the mother can avoid having to entertain them continuously. This is especially a much-needed break when you have a single child, or no extended family support, or maybe not too many other children in the neighbourhood. After all, far better to keep the kids occupied with art and dance rather than PSP and TV. And if, along the way, they discover a new passion or talent, all the better!
    2. When it comes to academics, if you are lucky, your child will be able to enjoy a carefree childhood and yet, hit the books when she needs to. But this is not always guaranteed. I guess the idea behind getting children to work even when they are younger is to teach them the values of hard work and discipline and the need to put in effort to succeed. And no child is too young to learn this. So if it means just working for 10 minutes a day on worksheets and spending 30 mins on reading per day with a four-your old, it is what I would do. In the hope that my daughter would, by the time she is 12, know what it is to work steadily and be able to cope with huge amounts of work at that time, rather then be thrown into the deep end when it matters.

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  2. Prashant

    You are right Aparna… no straight answers to this one. Each situation and each parent-child relationship is unique. Sometimes it also helps with each of the parents playing the good cop / bad cop game – helps the kid realize (though in a round about way) what is actually the reason behind any decision being “imposed” on them. Pushing to ‘embed’ good habits and values are an integral part of parenting in an urban Indian middle class family.

    Most parents (I think) are open to letting their kids excel in the area that the child can do well… but its extremely difficult to figure out where / what your kid has potential to do well.

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